Towards an interoperable healthcare information infrastructure — working from the bottom up
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Historically, the healthcare system has not made effective use of information technology. On the face of things, it would seem to provide a natural and richly varied domain in which to target benefit from IT solutions. But history shows that it is one of the most difficult domains in which to bring them to fruition. This paper provides an overview of the changing context and information requirements of healthcare that help to explain these characteristics.
First and foremost, the disciplines and professions that healthcare encompasses have immense complexity and diversity to deal with, in structuring knowledge about what medicine and healthcare are, how they function, and what differentiates good practice and good performance. The need to maintain macro-economic stability of the health service, faced with this and many other uncertainties, means that management bottom lines predominate over choices and decisions that have to be made within everyday individual patient services. Individual practice and care, the bedrock of healthcare, is, for this and other reasons, more and more subject to professional and managerial control and regulation.
One characteristic of organisations shown to be good at making effective use of IT is their capacity to devolve decisions within the organisation to where they can be best made, for the purpose of meeting their customers’ needs. IT should, in this context, contribute as an enabler and not as an enforcer of good information services. The information infrastructure must work effectively, both top down and bottom up, to accommodate these countervailing pressures. This issue is explored in the context of infrastructure to support electronic health records.
Because of the diverse and changing requirements of the huge healthcare sector, and the need to sustain health records over many decades, standardised systems must concentrate on doing the easier things well and as simply as possible, while accommodating immense diversity of requirements and practice. The manner in which the healthcare information infrastructure can be formulated and implemented to meet useful practical goals is explored, in the context of two case studies of research in CHIME at UCL and their user communities.
Healthcare has severe problems both as a provider of information and as a purchaser of information systems. This has an impact on both its customer and its supplier relationships. Healthcare needs to become a better purchaser, more aware and realistic about what technology can and cannot do and where research is needed. Industry needs a greater awareness of the complexity of the healthcare domain, and the subtle ways in which information is part of the basic contract between healthcare professionals and patients, and the trust and understanding that must exist between them. It is an ideal domain for deeper collaboration between academic institutions and industry.
KeywordsElectronic Health Record Information Infrastructure Haemoglobin Disorder Electronic Healthcare Record Framework Programme Project
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